Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Pale Production of Lanford Wilson's
Burn This at
New Conservatory Theatre Center

Also see Richard's review of Clean House

Daniel Lee and Megan Biolchini
The New Conservatory Theatre Center is currently reviving Lanford Wilson's 1987 taut drama Burn This. This marks the third time I have seen this raw drama of two people from very different lifestyles trying to find some semblance of romance. The drama is meant for a powerful actor to play the coarse and brutal Pale. I was fortunate to see John Malkovich play the braggart to Joan Allen's ethereal choreographer/dancer Anna. I also saw Malkovich's replacement Scott Glenn forcefully portray the role.

Director Christopher Jenkins's production does not have the zing of earlier productions. The play is very dated and was meant to be more in the time of the AIDS crisis, even though the central character Robbie, Anna's gay dancer roommate (who is never seen), died with his lover in a boating accident. In this production, Benjamin Fritz playing the dangerous Pale and Megan Biolchini playing the otherworldly Anna have very little chemistry between them.

Burn This is not one of this great American playwright's best works and when it opened in New York in 1987 the drama received mixed reviews. There was a revival several years ago with Edward Norton and Catherine Keener that got many negative reviews.

Burn This opens with Anna beside herself with grief over the dead roommate. Robbie was the center of her universe and she misses him terribly. Her only friends are a gay ad executive Larry (Nate Levine), who is also her roommate, and a spoiled rich screenwriter Burton (Daniel Lee), who supposedly loves her.

Robbie's foul-mouthed and wilder older brother Pale arrives in the middle of the night to collect his brother's things. This man is the antithesis of his dead brother. He is vulgar, boorish, insulting and very dangerous. It really makes no sense that Anna caters to this loud mouthed and unpredictable person. However, as the old adage says, opposites attract, and a romance occurs between the two. There are long repetitive scenes between Anna and her male friends that are rehashed over and over again. It's easy to get very tired of all four characters in this two-act play.

Benjamin Fritz (Judas in NCTC's production of Corpus Christi) is entirely too brutal as Pale. He has a tendency to yell and bluster in his scenes rather than try to find some humanity in the character. Megan Biolchini (graduate of the Actor program at Solano College) is very weak in the role of Anna and does not telegraph any kind of love toward this brute of a man. Chemistry is nil between them.

Nate Levine plays a stereotypical gay person in Manhattan and has some clever lines that could have been written by Terrence McNally. Daniel Lee as Burton is adequate in the role but is sluggish in his long dissertations about a screenplay he has written that makes very little sense.

Director Christopher Jenkins gives too much indulgence to the lead actors, and the pace drags in several of the scenes. The set by Bruce Walters is very good. It's a typical Manhattan apartment for dancers with a large wall-to-wall mirror and a bar where Anna does her exercises.

Burn This has been extended through February 26 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness, San Francisco. For tickets call their box office at 415-861-8972 or

The center is also presenting Richard Kramer's Theatre District and Michael Phillis comedy one-person show, D*Face

Photo: Lois Tema

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

Privacy Policy